I Served the King of England (film)
|I Served the King of England|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jiří Menzel|
|Produced by||Rudolf Biermann|
|Screenplay by||Jiří Menzel|
|Based on||I Served the King of England
by Bohumil Hrabal
|Music by||Aleš Březina|
|19 December 2006|
I Served the King of England (Czech: Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále) is a 2006 Czech film directed by Jiří Menzel, based on the novel I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal. It is Menzel's sixth adaptation of the works of Hrabal for film. The film was released in the UK and in the US in 2008.
Jan Dítě has been released from a Czech prison just before the very end of his 15-year sentence and is settling in a town near the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany. He occupies his time with rebuilding a deserted house, and begins to recall his past, where he says that his main wish in life was to be a millionaire. Jan begins his career as a frankfurter vendor at a railroad station, and quickly learns the power of money and the influence it exerts over people.
At one point during his reminiscences, a young woman, Marcela, and her older traveling companion, a professor, settle in the area. Jan and Marcela develop a mutual attraction, although it remains physically unconsumated. The movie continues to alternate between past and present, as the relationship between the older Jan and the new neighbors develops.
In the restaurant, the younger Jan has a number of affairs with various women, including an actress and a prostitute at a brothel. He also gradually moves into more socially prestigious work settings, including a stint at a spa, the Hotel Tichota, where he has an affair with a maid there. Jan eventually finds employment in Prague at the Hotel Paříž, where he falls under the tutelage of the Maître d', Skřivánek, who claims that he once served the King of England. Eventually, Jan serves the Emperor of Ethiopia at one occasion. The Emperor tries to award a medal to Skřivánek, but because he is short in height, cannot place the award around Skřivánek's neck. Jan is short enough for the Emperor to reach, and maneuvers into place to receive the medal in place of Skřivánek.
With the annexation of Czechoslovakia during the Third Reich, Jan falls in love with Liza, a young German Sudetenland woman who worships Adolf Hitler. She agrees to marry him only after he proves that he is of pure Aryan descent through medical examination. During the occupation, the other waiters and the hotel manager, Brandejs, express their contempt for the German occupiers by trying to be as unhelpful in their service as possible. Jan is the only member of the waitstaff not to express symbolic resistance in this manner. Brandejs dismisses Jan for this reason, and says that Jan will be blacklisted from employment in any Prague establishment. When Jan and Liza later appear as patrons, and after Jan mocks Skřivánek that serving the King of England has done him no good in life, Skřivánek pours food over Jan in protest. Eventually, Skřivánek is taken away by the occupying authorities and never seen again.
During World War II, Jan works in an institute, formerly the Hotel Tichota, where German women reside to breed a new "master race" with selected soldiers. Because the owner, Mr Tichota, uses a wheelchair, he has been displaced as its owner and is never seen again. In the meantime, Liza serves as a nurse on the Russian front. She returns with valuable stamps taken from the homes of Polish-Jewish families. As the war progresses and the tide turns against the German, the women are displaced from the facility, and wounded and amputee soldiers replace them. Near the end of the war, the facility is attacked, and the soldiers and staff evacuated. Liza tries to retrieve the stamps to use after the war, but dies when the roof of the hospital collapses. Jan finds Liza's body with her holding the box of stamps, and pries them from her hands. After the war, the stamps' value allows Jan to become a wealthy hotelier, in the same Hotel Tichota premises.
After the Communists take power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Jan loses his property and wealth when he tells the Communist resistance that he himself is a millionaire. He is sentenced to prison for 15 years: one year for each million of his fortune. In prison he sees that Brandejs and the other formerly wealthy customers are prisoners. Jan tries to sit among them, but they exclude him from their circle.
Marcela and the professor leave the area. Jan completes the restoration of his home and finally releases the stamps by letting the winds blow them into the valley.
- Ivan Barnev as Jan Dítě, as a young man
- Oldrich Kaiser as Jan Dítě, as an older man
- Julia Jentsch as Liza
- Martin Huba as Skřivánek
- Marián Labuda as Walden
- Milan Lasica as Professor
- Zuzana Fialová as Marcela
- Josef Abrhám as Brandejs
- Jaromír Dulava as Karel
- Pavel Nový as General
- István Szabó as stock marketeer
I Served the King of England received generally positive reviews from critics. As of October 11, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 80% of critics rated the film positively based on 71 reviews, with a consensus of "With charm and an eye for life's bittersweet moments, Czech New Wave master Jiri Menzel paints a picaresque story with whimsy and intellect." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 72 out of 100 based on 26 reviews, indicating a generally favorable response.
The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Peter Rainer of The Christian Science Monitor named it the 6th best film of 2008, and Dennis Harvey of Variety named it the 8th best film of 2008. It received the Gopo Award for Best European Film in 2009, meaning it was the European film which achieved the best box office success in Romania in 2008.
- Steve Rose (2008-05-09). "Irony man". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
- Stephen Holden (2008-08-29). "Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine, Then Back Down Again". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
- Peter Bradshaw (2008-05-09). "I Served the King of England". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
- "I Served the King of England Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- "I Served the King of England (2008): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2010-02-24.
- I Served the King of England at the Internet Movie Database
- I Served the King of England at AllMovie
- I Served the King of England at Metacritic
- CFN Entry (Czech)
- Review in The Prague Post